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Photo Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Moritz Seider has been one of the NHL’s best defensive defensemen this season

It appears Moritz Seider is none the worse for wear after blocking a shot and falling to the ice in pain late in the Detroit Red Wings’ 5–2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night.

The next day, Seider was back on the ice in Arizona as a full participant in Red Wings practice. Phew.

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“Based on practice today, he looks like he’ll be able to go [against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday],” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill told MLive.com on Friday. “So, we plan on having him ready.”

The reality is, Seider has almost instantly become a player the Red Wings cannot live without.

The 20-year-old rearguard hasn’t just been one of the top rookies in the National Hockey League this season. He’s been one of the best defensemen — period.

Taking a look at Evolving-Hockey’s goals above replacement (GAR) model, only 16 defensemen in the entire NHL possess a better GAR score than Seider over the first five weeks of the season.

GAR is a cumulative metric that describes a player’s on-ice impact in six different categories: even-strength offense (EVO), even-strength defense (EVD), power-play offense (PPO), shorthanded defense (SHD), penalties taken, and penalties drawn.

Seider’s total rating of 3.6 goals above replacement puts him in a tie for 17th among NHL defensemen. Those ahead of him include Erik Karlsson, Charlie McAvoy, Roman Josi, Thomas Chabot, Chris Tanev, MacKenzie Weegar, and Aaron Ekblad.

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Which three defensemen place immediately behind Seider in the rankings? Adam Fox, Adam Pelech, and Justin Faulk.

Talk about good company.

Seider currently ranks second in the NHL’s rookie scoring race. He has just as many assists (11) through 19 games as Red Wings teammate Lucas Raymond but has five fewer goals than the Swedish winger, who’s tied for the rookie lead with seven.

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However, Raymond’s tremendous first-year impacts have almost exclusively come in the offensive zone. Seider has been a factor all around the ice for Detroit.

Remember how GAR is made up of six different categories? Seider’s EVD and SHD GAR combine to give him a total defensive rating of 2.0 goals above replacement, the 12th-best mark among all NHL defensemen. No rookie — regardless of position — has been more impactful defensively than Seider this season.

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Seider has been doing all this with Danny DeKeyser stapled to his side. Once a serviceable two-way defender, the 31-year-old DeKeyser has since been ravaged by injuries and is no longer nearly as effective on the ice as he used to be.

Somehow, Seider has managed to elevate DeKeyser back to respectability during their shifts together. With Seider and DeKeyser on the ice, the Red Wings have posted a 49.95 expected goals percentage at 5-on-5 (according to Natural Stat Trick).

DeKeyser has spent 195:52 playing with Seider at 5-on-5 this season. In his 92:36 away from the German rookie, DeKeyser’s results have been dire. In that period, the Red Wings have been outshot 54 to 38, outscored 5 to 2, and out-chanced 65 to 28.

Without Seider on his right side, DeKeyser has seen the Red Wings surrender 30 high-danger chances and generate only 10 during his shifts. Detroit has posted an expected goals percentage of just 38.99 with DeKeyser but no Seider on the ice at 5-on-5.

Seider’s results away from DeKeyser have been very good. Even when he’s played with DeKeyser, though, the Red Wings have managed to outshoot their opponents 103 to 101. They’ve created 95 scoring chances and surrendered 98.

Perhaps the biggest difference has been in terms of high-danger chances, a category where — as you’ll recall — DeKeyser struggled mightily when away from Seider. When that pairing has been united, Detroit has managed to control 46.59% of all on-ice high-danger scoring chances. When DeKeyser has played with a different partner, that figure has plummeted to 25.00%.

In the long run, the Red Wings will need to find a better partner for Seider than DeKeyser. Only one left-handed Red Wings defenseman is under contract with the team beyond this year: Jordan Oesterle. He’s probably not the one.

Maybe that player will be Simon Edvinsson, the Red Wings’ first of two 2021 first-round draft picks. The 18-year-old Swede already has nine points in 16 Swedish Hockey League games with Frölunda this season.

Red Wings 2020 second-round pick and Rögle defenseman William Wallinder also has nine points in the SHL this season, albeit at age 19 while having played one more game. Both Edvinsson and Wallinder are lefties with SHL contracts that expire after the 2022–23 season.

With Seider, the Red Wings’ defense corps of the future is off to a fantastic start. When most onlookers had Seider ranked in the teens, Detroit general manager Steve Yzerman showed incredible foresight in selecting him sixth overall at the 2019 draft.

The Seider and Raymond picks are already home runs. The Red Wings likely only need a few more extra-base hits to become contenders.